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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – May 1, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Interior of the Oculus, NYC – photo by Timothy A. Clary

On Saturday, Wrongo scoffed at David Brooks, who said that Donald Trump’s foreign policy moves:

…have been, if anything, kind of normal…

Another part of US foreign policy that is FAR from normal is our effort to square the circle between our NATO ally Turkey, and our Kurdish allies in Syria and Iraq, who are fighting with us to eliminate ISIS as a force in Syria.

Last Tuesday, Turkey triggered a crisis when it launched airstrikes on US-backed YPG Kurdish fighters. The YPG is a Syrian sister organization of the Kurdish PKK Party in Turkey. Turkey believes the YPG and the PKK are terrorist groups whose goal is to destabilize Turkey.

Within Syria, US Special Forces are embedded with the YPG and are coordinating YPG’s moves against ISIS around Raqqa. The Turkish airstrikes killed at least 18 people, destroying the group’s headquarters. The airstrikes triggered heavy artillery and mortar exchanges between Turkish troops and Kurdish forces along the border, raising concerns that Turkey might send its forces into Syria, something the US opposes.

The YPG wants to divert forces from the attack on Raqqa to protect against further Turkish adventures, something the US doesn’t want. Now we learn that the US has placed some of its very limited military resources in Syria between the Turks and the Kurds in an effort to calm the hostilities. From the WSJ:

American forces have started patrolling the Turkey-Syria border to prevent further clashes between Turkish troops and Kurdish fighters, which could undermine the fight against Islamic State, U.S. officials said Friday.

This is the second time we had to break up the fight between the Turks and the Kurds in Syria. We made a similar move last month in Manbij, a northern Syrian town at the epicenter of a fight between Kurdish forces, Syrian government troops and Turkish-backed militants.

We have become our own UN-style peacekeeping force between Turkey and our Kurdish allies in the midst of our very real effort to take Raqqa from ISIS.

So, where are we going with Turkey, the Kurds and Syria? In the ME, the Kurds are one of the few groups the US can trust to perform militarily. They have fought alongside our troops in this region for years. In the past, we have sold them out in favor of Iraqi and Turkish geopolitical desires more than once.

OTOH, Turkey is a NATO ally, one who is the enemy of our Kurdish allies. We have several Airbases in Turkey which help with the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. If the Turks asked us to leave, our military effectiveness in the ME would be seriously weakened.

More than 25 million Kurds live in the region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. They are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the ME, but they do not have a permanent nation-state. The Kurds can see that a state could be created from the NE portion of Syria, and the region they already control in Iraq, if the Turks, along with Syria and its allies would allow it to happen.

Where does the US stand on this? Would we back the Turkish aspiration to control a Syrian buffer area between the Kurds to the East in Syria and in Iraq, and the Kurds in the West in Syria?

Would Russia, Syria, and Iran allow Turkey to succeed at that? What would happen if Russia and Iran moved against Turkey, if the Turks established a foothold in Northern Syria? Would the US come to Turkey’s defense?

Turkish President Erdogan is visiting Trump in DC in mid-May. Last Friday, Mr. Erdogan said he would personally urge Mr. Trump to stop working with the YPG, but Trump plans to directly arm them. What will the US response be to Erdogan, who looks more like a dictator controlling our only Islamic NATO ally?

Time for Trump and the State Department to wake up and solve the complex issues in Syria. Who knew being president would be so hard? This is not a time for shooting from the hip, or for deal-making, but for establishing principles for the end game in Syria with our most difficult NATO partner.

To help Trump and Tillerson wake up, here is the progressive rock band Yes, Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductees. The ceremony was broadcast Saturday night on HBO. The band’s co-founder, Jon Anderson, reunited for a performance of “Roundabout” from 1971. He’s here with bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, guitarist Trevor Rabin and drummer Alan White:

Those who view the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 10, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, CA. April 2017 photo by Robyn Beck

We still have little hard evidence proving that Syria gassed its own people. Much like Iraq in 2003, we have made a military move that feels great emotionally, but that isn’t built on a solid foundation of fact. That the Syrian government deliberately used chemical weapons to bomb its civilians became absolute truth in US media in less than 24 hours.

And once that tidal wave of American war frenzy starts rolling, questioning the casus belli is not permitted. Wanting conclusive evidence before commencing military action will get you vilified, denounced as a sympathizer with America’s enemies.

When Trump launched the tomahawks, most in the mainstream media suddenly fawned all over him. Margret Sullivan in the WaPo quoted several, starting with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria:

I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night…

And the NYT’s headline:

 On Syria attack, Trump’s heart came first

Sullivan noted that the NYT’s piece failed to even mention that Trump is keeping refugees from the Syrian war, even children, out of the US. Victims of chemical weapons were “beautiful babies” to Trump at his news conference, while the children trying to flee such violence require “extreme vetting” and face an indefinite refugee ban. And this from the WSJ’s Bret Stephens, previously a Trump critic:

 President Trump has done the right thing and I salute him for it…Now destroy the Assad regime for good.

Perhaps the worst was MSNBC’s Brian Williams, who used the word “beautiful” three times when discussing the tomahawk missile launches. He quoted a Leonard Cohen lyric (from First We Take Manhattan): I am guided by the beauty of our weapons — without apparent irony:

We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two US Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean…I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’…They are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them what is a brief flight over to this airfield…

Williams might have focused on: What did they hit? What are the strategic consequences?

Many of these same media pukes were continuously expressing doubts about Trump’s judgment since before his election. But, when he orders the use of force, his judgment needs to be questioned by them more than ever. One reason that the US so easily resorts to the use of force abroad is that the very people that should be the first to question the rationale for a presidential military decision are instead among the first to cheer it and celebrate it.

We see groupthink most of the time when the American news media watches an administration step up to the brink of war. This was true in the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, the start of our longest military disaster.

Journalists and pundits need to keep virtues like skepticism, facts on the ground, and context fixed firmly in their minds. They should not be like Brian Williams, focused on spectacular images in the night sky, without contemplating their deadly effect.

For example, how can the media NOT ask how Trump, a man with little outward empathy, can change in a minute, suddenly becoming a caring individual about beautiful Syrian babies? Or, how in a period of 24 hours, Trump managed to flip-flop 180 degrees on a position about Syria that he’s held for years?

Why is the media leading the cheers on Syria, but keeping silent about Yemen?

Why are there never pictures of “beautiful”dead babies after our drone strikes go awry?

Time for the main stream media to wake up and do their jobs in an old school way. To help them wake up, here is Brian Williams’s favorite lyricist, Leonard Cohen, with “First We Take Manhattan”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Takeaway Lyric:

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

I’m guided by a signal in the heavens
I’m guided by this birthmark on my skin
I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

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Saturday Soother – April 8, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Mount Etna eruption, March 2017 – photo by Salvatore Allegra

Ready, Fire, Aim! Aren’t you glad we didn’t elect Hillary, the neo con warmonger? From Booman:

Our Bush Era PTSD has been reactivated in a big way. While I offered a limited and cautious and conditional defense of President Trump’s decision to authorize the strikes against Syria, I was at pains to note that it’s very important that the administration provide convincing evidence that the Assad regime is responsible for the sarin attack that served as the predicate for the missile launch.

Russia and Syria have denied that they are behind the Syrian Chemical Weapons (CW) attack. We know there was an attack, and that some kind of chemical was used. The media are saying it was sarin gas.

They also, nearly unanimously, say it is the fault of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Earlier in the week, both US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson and US UN envoy Nikki Haley said removing Assad was no longer a priority in US Middle-East policy.

Now, Assad has to go.

Most news outlets and pundits support Donald Trump’s spanking of the Assad government, but what is Trump’s strategy? Enforcing norms against the use of chemical weapons (CW) is a good thing. But it’s hard to see how Thursday’s all-out reversal of our level of engagement in the Syrian civil war is justified by the use of CW, particularly since it has been used several times before in Syria, and since it brings with it many other risks/issues, like a potential military confrontation with Russia and Iran.

After Thursday’s Tomahawk missile attack, we are now simultaneously confronting the two strongest factions in the Syrian civil war, Assad’s army and ISIS. While Trump and the MSM are going bananas about the horrors of CW, no one was going bananas last week, or in all the prior weeks, about the daily death count of Syrian children who were collateral damage in the country’s civil war.

The attack took place in the midst of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping This was where one of the hottest topics was what to do about North Korea’s continuing long-range missile tests and its work on completing a deliverable nuclear warhead.

Clearly there were implicit messages for both North Korea and China in the Syrian attack. This has something to do with Syria, and a lot to do with the Chinese. Military types would tell us that Trump firing 59 cruise missiles to take out an airfield is overkill.

But, it will not be lost on Xi that 50+cruise missiles could also devastate any of those new atoll airfields cropping up in the South China Sea. Donald Trump just proved to Xi that he is a man with 4,000+ nuclear weapons at this disposal and a military that follows orders. It looks to Wrongo like Xi and Putin now have a giant incentive to become better allies, and invite Iran to the party.

Once again, Wrongo thinks that the best option for the US would be to concentrate on humanitarian efforts and helping refugees. And to work with Russia and Syria’s other allies to end the threat from ISIS in the greater Middle East.

Unfortunately, that also admits there is a limitation on the US’s ability to control events solely based on its military strength. Despite its flaws, if there’s no reason to believe any strategy will improve results, then the best course is inaction. That was Obama’s approach.

It’s just not true that we “Must Do Something”. People think that if we Do Something, then nothing bad that subsequently happens is really our fault, because AT LEAST WE DID SOMETHING. Whereas if we do nothing, then every bad thing that subsequently happens is our fault.

Thanks, Obama.

We really don’t have to do anything. The problem is that by following the do-nothing strategy, America doesn’t get to be the biggest, baddest ass on the Middle East Street.

Yes, if we do nothing, lots of people will die, but that doesn’t exactly distinguish it from what will happen anyway. Our inaction won’t transfer blame for those deaths onto us, any more than an action to take out Assad will shift it from us.

Who knew running the world’s superpower was so complicated? Certainly, not someone who said “I alone can fix it”.

With all of this Bush-era Déjà Vu, we really need some soothing today. Here is the first movement (Allegro) from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No.5 in F Major, “Spring” Op. 24, for violin/piano, played by Ilya Itin and Igor Graupman from a live performance at the Miami International Piano Festival.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Trump’s ISIS Strategy

The Daily Escape:

(We are back from 75° weather and as this is written, we are about to see 12″-18″ of snow.)

The NYT had an editorial on Monday that said Donald Trump was a man without a plan on ISIS:

On the campaign trail, no foreign policy issue seized Donald Trump more than the fight against the Islamic State. Once president, he signed an executive order giving his generals 30 days to produce a plan to defeat the terrorist group, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis gave him options on Feb. 27.

The Times says Trump has no plan. But Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis says the plan has already been executed:

James Mattis, in his generalissimo mode of action has, IMO, been given the imperial wave of dismissal and sent forth to destroy IS. “Make it so!”

According to Lang, the signs are clear:

  1. There is greater coordination and “de-confliction” between the US and Russia in air operations against ISIS. Lang points out that the rebel group “hayat tahrir al-sham” has now been designated as a terrorist organization by the US government. This makes them legitimate targets under the AUMF.
  2. The insertion of a Marine artillery battery to provide fire support for operations to retake Raqqa.
  3. Several hundred soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment have been positioned in and around Manbij to referee among the Turks, Assad’s Syrian Arab Army, (SAA), et al, to keep unwanted actors out of the coming battle to take Raqqa.

More from Lang:

I estimate these signs to…indicate that Trump and his generalissimo have decided to roll the iron dice and commit whatever force is necessary to destroy IS in both Syria and Iraq.

Wrongo agrees with Lang that the war to eliminate ISIS is on. We know a bit about the effort to take Mosul in Iraq, but have heard nothing about Syria. Trump said quite plainly that he had no intention of giving any advance notice of his military intentions. That seems prudent and logical to Wrongo.

But, basic contradictions persist:

  • Who will fight house by house to re-take Raqqa? Not Americans, or the Kurds. If Mosul is any indication, Sunnis will die to the last true believer if Jihadi families can’t be bussed out.
  • Who will be the occupiers of Eastern Syria? The SAA has a legitimate right to be in Raqqa. Will Israel and the Gulf Monarchies sit idly by while Iran and Syria complete the Shia Crescent?

Many questions. If the 21st century has shown us anything, it is that neoliberal supranational rule brings only inequality and chaos. If there is ever going to be peace, if the flow of refugees is to be ended, national governments must be rebuilt, and their borders secured.

Only then can supranational alliances work to address the world’s problems.

Assad has called us Syrian invaders. Unlike the Russians, Iranians, and Hezbollah, we were not invited by Syria to attend the “slay a few jihadis” party, nor are the Turks. While the YPG/SDF certainly seem agreeable to our being there, it doesn’t make our entry legal under international law. The AUMF probably provides the cover of our national law to be in Syria, but international law does not.

We seem to have traded John McCain’s beloved Free Syrian Army unicorns for the much more effective YPG/SDF, who will now act as our “Assad must go” surrogates. If that’s Trump’s plan, then we are cooked. Trump shouldn’t be allowed to let that policy stand. He stated before he became POTUS that he thought that any form of larger commitment of combat forces into Syria would be a mistake.

But here we are watching a continuation of the policy that predates the Trump presidency, the balkanization of Syria by alternative means.

Trump’s “A Team” of generals seem to have fallen back on the old plan. Can you smell the mission creep? We shouldn’t be staying in Syria once the ISIS fighters in Raqqa are reduced to corpses on the desert sand.

A musical interlude to take you away from geopolitics. Here is “Jessica”, the classic Allman Brothers tune, re-imagined by Kevin Burke, legendary Celtic violinist and veteran rocker John Brennan, from their album The Pound Ridge Sessions. The title comes from where the album was recorded, Pound Ridge, NY.

They substitute violins for guitars, and it is a nice version. Here is “Jessica”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Will The Candidates Discuss Syria?

Although it is Sunday, there will be no cartoons today. Sorry. Instead, time to eat our vegetables and prepare for tonight’s second Presidential Debate.

Wrongo thinks Syria should be a featured topic, since it lays bare our conflict with Russia, which has steadily grown since their annexation of Crimea. But, the debate is in a town hall format, with half of the questions coming from the audience, so it is difficult to say if Syria and Russia will make it to the table.

Certainly they should be discussed. On October 3, the Obama Administration walked away from the Geneva negotiations with Russia, aimed at ending the war in Syria. On October 5, the Principals Committee met at the White House to consider four options for Syria:

  1. Create a no-fly zone over Syria;
  2. Create safe zones along the Turkish and Jordanian borders inside Syrian territory;
  3. Bomb the entire Syrian Air Force;
  4. Arm the Syrian rebels (jihadists) with anti-aircraft weapons (MANPADS) as part of a prolonged insurgency directed against the Assad government, which are increasingly dominated by the very terrorist forces that the US and Russia were jointly targeting up until last week.

The first three options require the imposition of a no fly zone over Syria. There are big risks with a no fly zone, if the US imposes it without Russian cooperation. The Russians might refuse to respect it. If they defy the no fly zone and we shoot down Russian planes, it could lead to war. The Russians categorically oppose a Syrian no fly zone, because they believe it will weaken Assad.

Option four means the US aligns with our former jihadi terrorist enemies against Assad, in a semi-permanent war in the Middle East. So, consider these statements:

Any alternative approach must begin with grounding Mr. Assad’s air power…If Russia continues its indiscriminate bombing, we should make clear that we will take steps to hold its aircraft at greater risk.

I would recommend our colleagues in Washington to thoroughly consider the possible consequences of the realization of such plans…

That’s the current geopolitical landscape. What do the candidates think?

The Pant Suit wants to remove Assad and defeat ISIS simultaneously. She supports a no-fly zone. Clinton does not support an American troop commitment. Instead, she wants to arm and supply Syrian and Kurdish rebel groups. Her plan is to replace both Assad and ISIS with another group to be named later. It’s a weak plan, but it appeals to Americans because Clinton’s plan doesn’t require more American troops on the ground.

Trump has no plan, but during the primaries, he said: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

So, I don’t like Assad. Who’s going to like Assad? But, we have no idea who these people [Assad replacements], and what they’re going to be, and what they’re going to represent. They may be far worse than Assad. Look at Libya. Look at Iraq. Look at the mess we have after spending $2 trillion dollars, thousands of lives, wounded warriors all over the place–we have nothing.

But during the VP debate, Pence adopted Clinton’s position. Pence said:

The United States of America needs to be prepared to work with our allies in the region to create a route for safe passage and then to protect people in those areas, including with a no-fly zone.

Obama has repeatedly refused to impose a no-fly zone.

Here is some context: Arming terrorists in a sovereign nation is an act of war. Bombing and attacking targets in a sovereign nation is an act of war. Establishing no fly zones without permission in a sovereign nation is an act of war. Stationing troops or Special Forces in a sovereign nation without permission is an act of war.

We have no UN mandate to be in Syria. Congress has not given its approval to be in Syria.

It’s a big fat mess, with no good solution in sight, made worse by the scale of the Syrian humanitarian crisis. And marked by Congress’ lack of courage.

It would be nice if at least ONE candidate would recall that during the Cold War, the number one goal was not to provoke a war between the US and Russia, but to find ways to de-escalate the situation.

Perhaps this is too much to expect, given the temperament of both candidates.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 28, 2016

Wrongo and Ms. Oh So Right have returned to the Mansion of Wrong. That means we are back to “All Trump, All The Time”, something we did not miss while in the American and Canadian Rockies.

Saturday’s NYT had a long-form article. “Syria’s Paradox: Why the War Only Ever Seems to Get Worse details the reasons that the Syrian war could last a very, very long time. From the NYT:

The core combatants — the government and the insurgents who began fighting it in 2011 — are quite weak and, on their own, cannot sustain the fight for long. But they are not on their own. Each side is backed by foreign powers — including the United States, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and now Turkey — whose interventions have suspended the usual laws of nature. Forces that would normally slow the conflict’s inertia are absent, allowing it to continue far longer than it otherwise would. Government and rebel forces are supplied from abroad, which means their arms never run out…These material and human costs are easy for the far richer foreign powers to bear.

Not all cartoons are funny. Here is a graphic way to think about the war’s impact on Syria’s children:

COW Syrias Kids

Khalid Albaih is a Sudanese cartoonist living in Doha, Qatar.

The French forcing Muslim women to take off their burkini is another form of warfare:

COW Burkini

Trump backtracks on the wall:

COW Trump Wall2

Trump knew from the beginning that he couldn’t deport 11 million people, and he knew from the beginning that his wall would never be built. So, maybe this isn’t a flip-flop, just an admission. Trump supporters, however, were conned about as much as they deserved to be.

The Orange Trumpet pitched African-Americans this week:

COW Trumps Pitch

Hillary better hope the Clinton Foundation issue doesn’t weaken her campaign:

COW Clinton Foundation2

Epipen pricing by Mylan is just another racket:

COW Epipen

 

 

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Taking a Break From Domestic Politics

(The next column will appear on Monday 3/14. Starting tomorrow, the Wrongologist and Ms. Oh So Right are attending a wedding in Vermont)

Our preoccupation with the primaries, and dick-measuring has obscured several things that are happening around the world. Let’s take a quick look at three things we have talked about in the past.

US Russia/Middle East policy. Sec. Def. Ash Carter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, and the wacky NATO Commander, Gen. Phillip Breedlove, all seem to be intent precipitating a war with Russia. Last week at a Congressional hearing, Breedlove called Russia “America’s greatest strategic threat.” He went on to accuse Vladimir Putin of “Weaponizing” the flood of ME refugees into Europe as a plan “to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.”

We have our disagreements with Russia, we certainly hate what they did in Crimea and what they are doing in Ukraine. The jury is out on whether they are saving or frying our bacon in Syria, but it seems that we are (almost) on the same page there, except for our insistence that Assad must go.

It pays to remember that Russia is armed with several thousand nuclear weapons. Is it really wise for the head of NATO to pick a fight with a country that he knows feels deeply threatened by NATO expansion?

Our policy with Israel. Netanyahu has once again shown his contempt for Obama by spurning an invitation to meet in the Oval Office. When the Iran deal went down over Israel’s strong disagreement, the US agreed to send Israel more equipment and money to shore up their defenses against Iran. But, Netanyahu wants even more money and equipment than Obama is willing to give him, and he thinks that he will get a better “deal” from the next US president. Tom Friedman observed on PBS that Obama has quietly given up on the two-state solution, that it is up to Israel to implement a “one-state” solution: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The idea that they need John Kerry…to come over…It’s got to start with them. I think the most constructive thing President Obama could do [is]…say, we tried. It’s over. There’s going to be a one-state solution.

Friedman says all the Israelis do is pick apart new peace plans, making it more about the US, not about the warring factions in Israel: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The Americans [should say]…nobody’s coming. It’s over. It’s yours. You own it. Now you live with it.

And fix it if you can. But can we expect that from ANY of the current presidential candidates? No, they all say that they are Bibi’s greatest supporters. So we can expect the policy of “whatever Bibi wants, Bibi gets” to continue.

Finally, Turkey: Turkey is a member of NATO. Turkey wants to become a member of the EU. But, President Tayyip Erdogan is moving quickly to make Turkey an illiberal democracy. Turkish elections are democratic and mostly fair, but the government that they elect imprisons journalists, reassigns police in the middle of inconvenient investigations, and most recently, closed the country’s largest newspaper. In fact, 2000 people have been arrested just for insulting President Erdogan.

The EU is considering accelerating Turkey’s negotiations for EU membership. That process, which has been stalled for years, normally requires a candidate country to meet basic standards on pesky items from the independence of its judiciary, to press freedoms, two things missing in today’s Turkey.

The EU is crafting a devil’s bargain. They want Turkey to open up new refugee resettlement camps to hold the Syrians who cross from Turkey to Greece, and on to the rest of Europe. But shopping in the Turkish bazaar is never wise for the novice. The EU learned that lesson this week, when it discovered the refugee deal it believed it had previously sold to Turkish leaders turned out to be just the beginning of the negotiation on Monday. Turkey’s counter offer would have prompted EU negotiators to get up and walk out six months ago. Ankara’s proposal:

• €3 billion in refugee aid in addition to the €3 billion already pledged.
• Liberalized visas for Turkish citizens to visit the EU.
• A pledge by the EU to resettle the same number of Syrian refugees already in Turkish refugee camps, as Turkey takes in when the EU sends them back.
• Accelerated consideration of Turkish EU membership.

Turkey’s message to Europe is: You need us more than we need you. Their message back should be: we’ll give you the money. That’s it.

In closing, Wrongo just can’t resist a brief return (excuse the pun on briefs) to the US general election. Hillary’s likely reaction to Trump’s exhibitionism: “Somewhat like a penis, only MUCH smaller”.

COW Trump Package

 

 

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 29, 2015

Russia and Turkey, America and turkey. Turkeys shopping on Friday. Turkeys on the campaign trail. Quite the week for turkeys.

Russia’s and Turkey’s tiff makes Thanksgiving worrisome:

 

COW Russian Turkey

 

What Massasoit should have said to the Pilgrims:

COW Platter Back

“We’d love to get the platter back when this is over. That, and our land.”

Not all holiday cornucopias are filled with gifts:

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

 

 

 

For some, Black Friday wasn’t about shopping:

COW Black Friday 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For others, long lines on Black Friday would be OK:

COW Black Fri

 

 

 

 

2016 presidential politics provided quite a bit of leftover turkey:

COW Leftovers

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 22, 2015

JFK was killed 52 years ago today. Most of us only vaguely remember the tragedy, but Wrongo was in class at Georgetown in Washington DC when it happened, so he remembers it well. It seemed that the nation convulsed when Kennedy was killed. We watched Cronkite read the news from the ticker, we saw Oswald shot live on TV, and we watched the procession with John-John’s salute. But was the arc of our history really altered? There are what-ifs by liberals about the Vietnam War, but it continued until the Nixon administration. LBJ, thought of as not worthy to succeed Kennedy, delivered the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid, and the National Endowment for the Arts to the country.

On to cartoons. Paris, immigration and the 2016 presidential election dominated the week’s news.

GOP governors edit Emma Lazarus:

COW No Entry

Why we are fearful:

COW Fear Itself

It is a lot easier to pretend that you’re acting tough by talking about closing mosques and turning away refugees than it is to explain why the risks are worth taking. The appropriate response is to point out that it isn’t tough to cower in fear. We are actually tough when we tolerate a little fear in the interest of doing the right and wise thing.

In time for the Holidays, a “No Vacancy” sign:

COW No Room at the Inn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The safety net is remade by Republicans in His image:

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

The immigration debate reminds us of walls through the ages:

COW Tear Down This Wall

Jeb reviews our recent history with France:

COW Jeb France

 

Promise them anything but a balanced budget:

COW Budget Implications

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America’s PTSD

America has been in a defensive crouch since 9/11. The mere mention of domestic terrorists or a terrorist attack inside the US causes many of us to suspend rational thought, and beg our politicians to protect us, even though the risk of dying from a terrorist attack is very small.

How small? In 2014, there were four terrorism-related incidents in the US involving Muslim-Americans that killed seven people. The total number of fatalities in the US from terrorism by Muslim-Americans since 9/11 is 50 souls. Meanwhile, we have had more than 200,000 murders in the US since 9/11.

The ethical question we face is: Do Americans deserve peace of mind more than Syrians refugees deserve safety?

We look to our leaders to help answer that question, but they can be cowards. They should do everything they can to help the rest of us be brave, and do the right thing, even if it entails some measure of risk. That’s true if we’re talking about restrictions on how much privacy we’ll cede to the government, or if we’re thinking about allowing Syrian refugees on our soil.

But, it seems most politicians prefer to play to our PTSD, fanning our fears.

The Paris terrorist attacks were a tactical loss in the war against ISIS. But the only way it leads to a strategic defeat, as the blog Political Violence @ A Glance writes, is if we let this attack divide us along religious lines, provoking non-Muslims vs. Muslims.

ISIS is geographically contained. To the east, Iran and the weak but stable Iraqi government are not going anywhere. To the north, the Syrian Kurds, and behind them Turkey, block ISIS. To the west, the Assad regime plus Syrian rebels block ISIS progress, particularly with the support of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. To the south, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are supported by the US and are not likely to fall. Lebanon is the weak link, but it is supported by Iran.

Here is a view of the current state of play in Syria:

Syrian Kurd Control

Source: New York Review of Books

The purple area is controlled by the Syrian Kurds. The remaining open border with Turkey shown above is the primary route that ISIS uses for trade, to add jihadists and deliver war supplies. Sealing it seems to be among Russia’s top priorities, and it is also a priority for the Syrian Kurdish YPG. However, it is not a priority of the US, or Turkey.

Given these facts on the ground, the Paris attacks are militarily insignificant. However, they could be significant if we make bad decisions.

America’s post 9/11 PTSD affliction makes us happily willing to abrogate parts of the US Constitution, like the damage already done to the 4th Amendment. Consider this week’s hand-wringing about our surveillance capabilities by CIA Director John Brennan, who wants to force companies to give the government encryption keys for their new applications.

He wants better domestic spying, and fewer domestic rights, to help fight ISIS.

It appears that the House will vote Thursday to change the screening process for refugees from Syria and Iraq. The bill requires the government to create a new process that “certifies” that refugees aren’t a security threat. Since the bill has no recommendations about the certification process, it acts to “pause” immigration while the bureaucrats work something out.

Or, consider the religious test that some Republicans want to impose on Syrian immigrants. If we allow Syrian Christians to migrate here while banning Muslims, we have created an unconstitutional religious test that violates part of the First Amendment.

And, the backlash against Syrian immigrants by US state governors sets up a possible Muslim vs. non-Muslim confrontation. It abrogates even more of the Constitution. It is a short step from saying no Muslims in a state, to saying that only Christians can live in a particular state.

But, Chris Cillizza at the WaPo says that Democrats need to be very careful about demonizing Republicans over Syrian immigration:

The political upside for Republican politicians pushing an immigration ban on Syrians and/or Muslims as a broader response to the threat posed by the Islamic State sure looks like a political winner.

This is backed up by Pew Research Center’s 2014 survey examining Americans’ view on Islamic extremism:

Pew Islam Concerns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So to most Americans, it doesn’t seem xenophobic, or crazy to call for an end to accepting Syrian refugees.

OTOH, Republicans say that Second Amendment still needs more protection. There are people all across America that are willing to weaken many Amendments, but not the one that lets them walk the streets with AR-15’s.

Yet, what the electorate will remember in 2016 is that Democrats wanted more foreigners to come here, while Republicans wanted to protect them from terrorists. Fear sells and motivates. Reasoned, nuanced discussion bores us, and is ignored.

So, don’t expect leadership to be brave.

At this point, while we may have some responsibility to help protect political refugees, it is probably not worth losing an election over.

See you on Sunday

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